Most helpful positive review
MASTERPIECE : Lingering Questions and excellent social analysis.
on September 17, 2012
In Coming Apart, Charles Murray presents, and defends through an amazing amount of statistics, that America is coming apart at the seams. We are coming apart because "the American project has been historically based on industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity" and the united culture in which the American project began is now a divided culture. Murray questions whether or not the American project can exist much longer in such a divided culture.
Coming Apart isolates the white culture of America to avoid the impact of race on the formation of values. Murray compares the culture of the 1960s to the culture of 2010 using a wide array of studies. At times, the amount of information is almost too much to take in. But the implications are hard to miss.
To make it easier on the reader, Murray created two fictional communities, Fishtown and Belmont. Fishtown represents those without a college education and who works in a blue collar jobw or low level white collar jobw. Belmont represents those withe a college degree and who work in high-prestige professions or management. These two fictional neighborhoods represent the top 20% of education and income (Belmont) and the bottom 30% of education and income (Fishtown). And the differences between the two are staggering.
On all four values of hard work, honesty, marriage, and religiosity, Belmont and Fishtown are night and day apart. Marriage is still a practiced value in Belmont, but not so much in Fishtown. A large number of children are born to single mothers in Fishtown, but not in Belmont. Unemployment is through the roof in Fishtown.Etc., etc., etc.
Murray's point is not that the two extremes are, well, the two extremes, but that they are the two extremes based upon the values they embrace. Because Belmont still values hard work and marriage, they are in the top 20%. Because Fishtown has abandoned the same, they are in the bottom 30%.
His larger point is that the divide between these two "cultures" is getting worse and problematic. The Belmonts of America are increasingly self-isolating from the Fishtowns, to the point that most Belmontians have no idea what life in Fishtown is like. And since the Belmontians are the influencers and decision makers of America, they have lost touch with the reality that most of Americans experience. His analysis of "super ZIPS," where these Belmont clusters have isolated from the rest of America is worth the price of the book alone.
Murray is careful not to say that Belmont is higher and mightier than Fishtown per say. In fact, Belmont is in real danger. Belmont itself is forsaking the convictions that what made Belmont is the values of hard work, marriage, and religion. If Belmont thinks it can reach the same end on a different path than the values that brought it there, Belmont may end up like Fishtown.
Coming Apart will make you think, and leave you thinking with a whole lot of "what do we do with this" kind of thoughts. But a good book is supposed to do that. But you will come away convinced that America is indeed, coming apart.